Trading one drug for another doesn’t equal recovery or freedom
Steve Wildsmith | (email@example.com)
A regular reader called me a couple of weeks ago, concerned about an immediate relative who had decided to pursue an alternative means of treatment than the one that worked for me.
I make no secret that my own recovery from addiction is based on the 12 Steps, that model first introduced in 1935 by the “mother” 12-Step group of Alcoholics Anonymous; neither do I claim that the path that works for me is the only way to get clean and stay clean. Many people pursue a religious means of therapy, and it works perfectly well for them. Others seek professional psychological help and manage to turn their lives around.
I have no problem with those alternate paths; my whole philosophy can be summed up as such: I don’t care where you get it, just get it. In other words, do something. Make a decision to do whatever it takes to find a new way of life, something that doesn’t involve the degrading orbit of dereliction, degradation, jails and institutions and eventually ends in death.
But for the life of me, I can never understand the decision to choose drug “maintenance.” With this process, an addict enrolls in a methadone or a Suboxone program, two synthetic opiates that are administered as an alternative to the illegal street or prescription drugs an addict has been using.
Some programs use methadone or Suboxone as temporary “step-down” medications: They’re administered for short periods of time in decreasing dosages, until the addict’s physical withdrawal symptoms are tolerable. That’s often necessary for treating patients addicted to opiates like Roxicet and heroin, because the physical anguish of withdrawal is so agonizing that it’s often impossible to endure: The addict finds himself in so much mental, spiritual and physical misery that getting high again seems like the only way to make that misery stop.
Other programs, however, are designed to keep patients on long-term maintenance. Addicts pay a regular fee and visit a clinic once a week (or once a month) and receive a regular dose of methadone or Suboxone, which they take religiously to avoid the onset of withdrawal symptoms. They may seem like they function normally: They’re able to live their lives and hold jobs and function like productive members of society. And that may seem like it’s a perfectly acceptable alternative to the constant hustle and conning and manipulating of active addiction.
Here’s the thing, though, and this is just my personal opinion: I didn’t want to trade one drug for another. I was a slave to heroin and Oxycontin, and I was desperate for a new way of life. I didn’t want to trade one set of chains for another. I don’t want to rely on another chemical, no matter how legal it may be and how regulated my dosage is, to live “normally.”
To me, the goal of recovery is getting clean from all drugs and learning how to accept life on life’s terms — to feel and experience and love and grieve and make it through every day without my brain being altered by a chemical, legal or illegal. I spent too many years of my life shackled to a drug that dictated how I lived my life; regardless of the temptation that methadone or Suboxone might have offered as a way to “function,” I didn’t want to wear those shackles any more.
Breaking free of them was perhaps the single hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Those able to stop the progress of their addictions “cold turkey” — without any sort of medication or treatment — are better human beings than I, especially if they manage to stay clean and become better individuals throughout that process.
Because that’s the whole goal: To become better people than we were as drug users and abusers. It’s not about just quitting the drugs; it’s about changing the reason we want to use drugs in the first place ... but we can’t do that if we’re still using a drug, regardless of its design as a panacea or a cure for addiction.
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.